Shrooms, Saunas, Sunsets and S’ghetti
The state of Oaxaca is routinely and deservedly recognized for its regional cuisine, thriving cultural scene and amazing coastline. But the equally impressive mountain regions are often overlooked and are just waiting to be explored. Rugged ranges covered in towering pines and wild forest flowers accessed via rough and winding roads offer new experiences for the intrepid traveller. One such destination is the enchanting town of San Jose del Pacifico.
Halfway along the road connecting Oaxaca City to the coast, just as you climb to the top of the Sierra Sur mountain range sits San Jose del Pacifico. So named for the views that stretch (on a clear day) all the way to the Pacific coast some 60 kilometres away. Twenty five hundred metres above sea level, this mountain town sits above the clouds. Lush green forests offer vastly different vegetation from the cactus covered Oaxaca Valley to the north or palm tree lined coast to the south.
The town boasts incredible natural beauty, traditional temazcal sweat lodge ceremonies, and a reputation as a place or restorative power. But of special significance here, are the hongos magico, the local psilocybin mushroom, psilocybe mexicana, which grow abundantly in the mountains. Against this backdrop, an arts and bohemian counter culture has emerged. Also here, you will find a couple of unique and recommendable dining and accommodation options. It is the perfect place to stop on the long drive to or from the Oaxacan coast. Or, as a destination in its own right. It is a place to unplug, to unwind, to reconnect with nature and to rejuvenate body and mind.
How to Get to San Jose del Pacifico
Equal distance from Oaxaca’s Pacific Coast and Oaxaca de Juárez (Oaxaca), the drive takes around four hours. Though windy in either direction, the drive south to the coast down the mountain range and all the way back to sea level is far worse. Expect slow going and motion sickness if you are prone.
Taking your own vehicle the drive is simple. There is not too much traffic and if you stick to the 175, the roads are in ‘ok’ condition, even after wet season. As always be wary of Google maps shortcuts which may lead you astray especially after the rainy season, as many of the unsealed roads may have washed away.
If you don’t have your own vehicle your best bet is colectivo.
If you are coming from the coast, Eclipse 70 runs a mini-bus from their terminal at Pochutla.
Where to Stay in San Jose del Pacifico
When it comes to van life in San Jose del Pacifico, if you are camping or overlanding, know that this town sits precariously on the top of a mountain. Thus, parking and camping space are scarce. There are no quality free campsites. We recommend staying at Refugio Terraza de la Tierra if you are camping in your vehicle or tent. The prices are reasonable, the grounds resplendent and it is a great opportunity to stay a little further from the ramshackle town.
If you need a dwelling, Refugio’s cabanas are gorgeous but a bit on the pricy side ($40 – $50 USD per night). There are a number of accommodation options in town, mostly private cabana-style offerings. And a couple of hostels, the most notable of which being Hostel La Cumbre.
Refugio Terraza de la Tierra
Far and away our pick of places to stay is the Refugio Terraza de la Tierra. This eco retreat is a few kilometres out of town but they have everything you could need for a completely self contained trip. If you are overlanding you can camp in your vehicle for 200 pesos per night. Tent camping costs 100 pesos per person. Or, beautifully appointed cabanas start from 800 pesos.
The on-site restaurant serves set menu breakfasts, lunches and dinners sourced entirely from the onsite veggie garden. Meals cost between 100 and 180 pesos. A wood fired, traditional adobe temazcal sauna is available during your stay. Also included are meditative spaces, gardens and a number of walking trails. Daily yoga sessions cost an extra fee. The grounds are spectacular. Beautifully maintained gardens set amongst mountain forest offer breathtaking views of the valley.
Hostel La Cumbre
This popular hostel offers spectacular views, the opportunity to meet other travelers, and very fair prices. Facilities are very basic, even by backpacker hostel standards. If you are not used to hostels, or backpacking, it may be worth exploring some of the private cabana options around town.
Best Restaurants in San Jose del Pacifico
La Taberna De Los Duendes
Ordering spaghetti in Mexico is a bold move. Ordering it in a town of a few hundred on top of a mountain, bolder. However, La Taberna De Los Duendes is defying logic serving up HUGE helpings of delicious spaghetti that wouldn’t be out of place in a European restaurant. They also have steaks, salads, cheeses and a fantastic wine list to accompany you meal. Giant bowls of spaghetti start from around 200 pesos.
Refugio Terraza de la Tierra
The restaurant of this eco-retreat, just up out of town offers fantastic breakfasts, set menu lunches (150 pesos) or set menu dinners (180 pesos). The chef prepares meals sourced entirely from produce grown in their veggie garden, using a wood fired stove. Make sure to book in advance as meals require 2 hours lead in time.
The Main Street
Here you can find western cafes with pizza and sandwiches. As well as, classic Mexican kitchens serving wood fired Oaxacan classics like memelitas, tlayudas and quesadillas. Cheap and filling, but nothing to write home about. Oaxacan classics like Tlayudas start from around 50 pesos.
What to Do in San Jose del Pacifico
Central America’s answer to the european sauna, the temazcal is a low heat sweat lodge. Often the temazcal is used as part of a ceremony to purify and detoxify the body.
In San Jose many of the accommodations offer a traditional adobe hut temazcal. If you want to experience the ritual and ceremony, Paco, a local shaman offers traditional temazcal for 150 pesos. See the times and availability of the Pacos temezcal ceremony outside the tattoo parlor, Arbolcromatico, on the main street.
The mountainous area is covered with dense green vegetation, birds, streams and waterfalls. We walked on the short trails at Refugio Terraza de la Tierra. However, there are a number of trails beginning in town.
Central America is ground zero for the modern day fascination with psilocybin. Long used by the ancient civilisations as part religious rituals and ceremonies, researchers, recreational and spiritual users have been experiencing and documenting psilocybin here since the 50s. But it’s not just the long spiritual association with psilocybin and abundant growth of the psilocybe mexicana here. The stunning greenery, innumerable wild flowers, gorgeous mountain views and epic sunsets make for an incredible back drop for a mushroom trip. You can find mushrooms easily by asking around in town.
The long association and knowledge in the town make this as ‘safe’ a place as any to experience the hongos magicos, but as with any mind altering substance, do your homework. Being safe (and comfortable) with mushrooms is beyond the scope of this article but there are plenty of resources online. Although police seem to ignore the rampant sale of mushrooms here, be aware that they are still illegal.
As the notoriety of the town increases, so to does the opportunity for locals to exploit tourists. Ask around town and get a feel for prices and sellers before committing to a buying anything.
We only spent two days in San Jose del Pacifico, but it is a place that stands out as one of the more memorable and unique places on our trip. We can’t wait to return to spend a little more time.
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